EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Sree Narayana Guru was born on 14th Chingam 1032 M.E.(28TH August 1856 A.D.) on Chathayam star in an old Ezhava family known as Vayalvaram at Chempazhanthi about 11 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram. His father Madanasan conducted classes in Kudipallikoodam and was also a good farmer. His mother Kutti Amma was a simple pious lady. He was the only boy among the 4 children of his parents. From childhood onwards he showed signs of spiritual life. He had his first lessons in Malayalam and Sanskrit from Chempazhanthy Mootha Pillai, a good scholar of the locality and also from his uncle Krishnan Vaidyar who taught him Ayurveda, Sanskrit and Astrology. He also acquired proficiency in Tamil by private study. At that time he used to visit a Tamil book seller at Pettah in Thiruvananthapuram and read almost all books. At the age of 23, having known his aptitude for learning, he was sent to Kummanpally Ramanpillai Asan, a renowned scholar at Kayamkulam by his uncle. Here he stayed for about two years (1877-1879) at Varanapally, a renowned affluent Ezhava family which provided free boarding and lodging. He acquired sound scholarship in logic and philosophy. The secrets of vedantic and upanishadic wisdom became an open book to him. He returned to Chempazhanthy in his twentyfifth year (1879). Here he started imparting knowledge and wisdom in local schools known as Kudipallikoodams to local children, in particular the children of the depressed and oppressed sections of the society. This was a period of intense mental struggle for him. On the one hand he was obliged to support his family by fulfilling his duties. On the other hand he was faced with an ever increasing inner urge for a deep spiritual life. To divert him from the spiritual life his relatives made him marry at the age of 28. The marriage was solemnized by giving Pudava (new clothes) to the bride by his sisters and bringing the bride to his house. It is believed that the marriage was not consummated.
ATTAINMENT OF SPIRITUALITY
He used to say; “Every man is born in this world to fulfill a certain definite purpose. I must fulfill the purposes for which I was born”. He left his home in search of Truth and met several men in order to attain self realization. During these periods he went out from village to village like a mendicant, eating whatever is offered and mingling with the most lowly of all classes. During his journey he befriended Sree Chanttambiswamigal who introduced him to Thykkattu Ayyavu who was a Yogacharian. He studied under him for some years. From him he received many valuable advices. Guru went to Pillathadom in Maruthwa malai near Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu and did tapas for many years. He used to say that he has left there his friends –one leopard and one snake. There he attained supreme realization. Coming down to the planes he wandered in and out of Kerala and later Ceylon and met all types of people and dined with them. Sometimes he helped them to do their work in a better way. Sometimes entered into religious discourses with them.
KERALA YESTERDAY AND TODAY
A few decades ago Kerala was an extreme example of social and economic inequalities- “a lunatic asylum’ in the words of Swamy Vivekananda. Over a third of its population were outcastes and treated as untouchables. Some of them were even unseeables by the high caste Hindus. They have to keep off meters and meters away from high caste Hindus. Educational institutions were not opened to them. Government Jobs were denied. Temple entry forbidden. To the higher castes the untouchables were just meant to serve them with the lowliest of the menial jobs. They lived in abject poverty. They were tutored to believe that it is their fate to serve the high caste Hindus and live in servility. The “Karma theory” very well fitted to evolve such a social theory. This extreme Social inequality led to economic inequality that developed into intellectual inequality.
Today the picture is quite different in Kerala. The rigid caste system disappeared in Kerala. But caste still lingers in mind. Education is open to all. Many of the untouchables now wield intellectual power and professional skills. Among them there are judges, doctors, engineers, professors, teachers and government secretaries. Untouchability is unheard,inKerala.Life expectancy is the highest in the state, infant mortality is the lowest, the number of children per women is one amongst the lowest, it’s medium marriage age is the highest, so is it’s percentage of literacy. Also Kerala is the cleanest state in the whole of India. This transformation was brought about largely by the steps initiated by the great seer Sree Narayana Guru.
His manifesto thus says: “All people alike desire for happiness. All spiritual and material institutions work with this aim. But human soul long for an everlasting happiness in place of short-lived material happiness. Towards this goal human soul is making its pilgrimage.
To get physical, mental and spiritual happiness for a community, its members’ adherence to cleanliness, religious customs and morality help to a great extent. Worshipping centers and temples contribute to a long extent to extend these to all people. But to have all these, members of the community require financial progress also. For this we have to improve and reform agriculture, trade and technical training etc.
Materialism and spiritualism are not two entities. These are both sides of a coin or the both wings of the same bird. These two actually work for the same purpose. When all organs in a body work together, the body experiences happiness. Similarly to achieve mankind’s ultimate aim of happiness material as well as spiritual institutions are to work together.”
HIS TEMPLE REVOLUTION
His active public career started in 1888 when he consecrated Siva Temple by installing Sivalinga that was taken from the depth of Sankarankuzhi in Neyyar River at Aruvippuram defying tradition that only a Brahmin priest could officiate at such religious acts. On being questioned by a Brahmin Pandit he politely replied. “I installed only an Ezhava Siva”. He purposely performed the idol installation of Siva which had been denied to the out castes (Avarnas) for millenniums. He was only 33 at the time of this installation. It was a silent revolution to eliminate all evils in Hindu Society and to establish a society based on social equality. His dream of an ideal society was inscribed on the walls of this temple as this:
“This is the model center
Where all live in brotherhood,
Free from caste distinctions
And religious animosities “
At Murukkumpuzha near Thiruvananthapuram along with Sivalinga he placed a board with the inscriptions: SATYAM, DHARMAM, DAYA, SANTHI (Truth, Righteousness, compassion, peace). He attached greater values to these cardinal qualities than mere worship.
In 1905 he shifted from Aruvipuram to Varkala. Here Swamiji constrcted a hermitage and on April 30, 1912 (M.E.18-9-1087) on Chitra Pournami day installed Saraswathy (Sarada), the Goddess of wisdom and education according to Hindu mythology. He exhorted the people to bestow greater attention on education. Here there is no custom of giving Prasadam or Payasam (the left over of fruits, flowers and sweet food dedicated to God and later distributed to devotees) as directed by him. He started there a Sansksrit and an English Educational Institutions.
In 1912 he reached Aluva and selected a site near the side of Periyar river. An Ashram with a Sanskrit School was started in August 1914 (M.E. 1090) at Aluva. To the students he himself took classes in Gita, Upanishad and Vedanta and sometimes in Sanskrit also. The Ashram was named as “ADVAITHA ASHRAM”. Here there is no Idol installed. One will have to worship the all pervading Universal Self as he likes. It is the highest form of temple worship. By these examples he showed to the devotees that one can worship God with or without Idol.
In 1920 at Karamukku in Thrissur district he was to open a temple with the idol of Chidambaranatha (Siva). When the auspicious time came, he instructed to bring an oil lamp. He installed the lamp as Idol and declared” LET LIGHT RADIATE”. He meant that the need of the hour is the light (knowledge) that radiates into the hearts of mankind and dispel the darkness of ignorance.
His last installation was at Kalavamkodom at Cherthala Taluk. The temple authorities decided to install “SAKTHESWARA”, a combination of Sakthi and Iswara meaning of Parvathy and Siva. When Guru reached there for installation, there was a turbulent situation with a section of the rationalists agitating for no more installation and the other group desiring for it. Guru tried to pacify both of them. He ordered for a big looking mirror. He first installed Saktheswara amidst the playing of ‘Nadaswara’ and chanting mantras. After that the mirror was placed behind it with Pranava Mantram “OM” engraved on it. Mind is likened to mirror in religion and literature. A clear mirror indicates a clear mind. Only in clear mind free from impurities, god’ vision can be reflected. Always remember that it was also the installation of ‘OM’ the mystic syllable representing ‘Brahman’.
At the time when Guru started reformation in temple, the Avarnas (backwards) as a whole worshipped evil Gods like Chathan, Chamundi, Marutha etc. Animal sacrifices were wide spread. They were not allowed to worship Satvik Gods like Siva, Subrhamannya, Ganapati etc. He started a net work of temples throughout the state, removed all idols of evil gods, give new mantras ( Stothra Krithikal) to worship Satwik gods and advocated the people to follow it. The people simply obeyed him. The result was that in 1931 censes there were only 9000 temples dedicated to evil gods whereas there were 16000 such temples in 1921. Animal sacrifices were stopped in toto. The installation of light or Deepam at Karamukku enshrined the message of enlightenment within oneself. The Sarada Idol at Sivagiri conveyed the message that the exigency of the hour was education. The installation was made at a time when the literacy percentage of the Avarnas (backward) were deplorably poor.
About setting up temples he has his own progressive ideas. He thus said
“No benefit will be derived of having temples of unhygienic conditions and having the smell of bats always emitting. The inside of the temples should always be tidy. Instead of an Idol it is enough to have lamp hanging in the center. Lamp is the symbol of Knowledge (Pratyaksha Brahman). It is enough to have Darsan after bath. If it is inevitable to have Idols of worship, it is enough to have the photos of great-men around the lamp. When one goes to a temple the mind revels only on Almighty and not on the idol. The temples must have good gardens, libraries, debating halls, educational institutions capable of enticing the masses and raising their economical and cultural standards. Let temples remain at the center of all these. Let they be the source of social improvement of all those who believe and do not believe in idol worship.”
He once told “temple should construct temple”. Soon after laying the foundation stone of the temple at Thalassery he advised to open a box (Hundi) for putting donations. The present Jagannath temple at Thalassery was constructed almost by the donation of the devotees. All over Kerala he installed more than 30 temples, two temples at Kottar and Bhavani in Tamil Nadu and one by name Gokarnanath temple at Kudroli in Mangalapuram in Karnataka State. He could divert the income going to the Savarna temples to these temples and use them for the welfare of all. He opened his temples to all classes of people.